Batik fabric is known for its distinctive style, design and vibrant colors. From preparing the material for the batik design to the final ready-to-wear batik fabric, the process involves several stages. Batik prints have added beauty to our lifestyle; be it in art and in our wardrobes too. They are hanging over our windows as drapes and adorning our walls as paintings.
What is Batik?
As a creative medium batik, an art and craft is gaining popularity in the west. For centuries this art of designing and decorating cloth using the resist technique has been in practice. Batik is an old tradition that can be traced to Java in Indonesia. Even today, some exquisite batik materials are being produced in Java. Batik received its name from a combination of two Indonesian and Javanese words viz.'Titik' which denotes a dot or point and 'amba' meaning to write respectively. An Indonesian-Malay word, batik refers to a wax-resist dyeing technique used on cotton or silk fabric.
History of batik fabric
There is historical evidence that this resist technique of batik had been in use even in Africa, Middle East and in several parts of Asia. There is no clear evidence as to where batik was invented. It has been a common belief that travelers from India brought the technique to Asia. Batik was practiced in China too. In Nara, Japan, silk batik has been discovered in the form of screens decorated with trees, hunting scenes and mountains.
Except for some frescoes in the Ajanta caves that depict head wraps and garments in batik style, there is not much evidence of batik cotton fabrics in India. The oldest known batik fabric dating back to the 5th century had been excavated in Egypt in which woolen fabrics bearing white patterns on a blue background were found.
Indonesian craftsmen were brought by the Dutch to teach the craft to the warders in Holland. In the early 1940s the Swiss produced imitation batik. A wax block form of printing was developed in Java using a cap. Germans developed mass production of batik in the early 1900s. A very recent development in this field is computerization of Batik techniques.
Preparation of batik material
Natural materials such as cotton or silk are used for batik cloth, so that it can absorb the wax that is applied in the dye resisting process. The fabrics must be of a high thread count (densely woven). This helps maintain the intricate designs and patterns so characteristic of batik. As the first step in the batik process, the material is thoroughly washed to free it from any artificial loading. Colored materials are boiled for about ten minutes in order to remove any loose color. The material is then dried and ironed and now the fabric is ready for the application of the batik design.
The tools that are used for the designing process are very simple when compared to the intricate art form. The canting, a wax pen with a thin spout is used to draw designs on the cloth. Melted wax is held in a container normally made of iron or earthenware, called 'wajan'. It is then placed on a brick charcoal stove or spirit burner. When the artisan applies the wax to the cloth, it is kept in a melted state. Different kinds and qualities of wax are used in batik. A mixture of beeswax and paraffin is commonly used for batik, since beeswax is known for its malleability. When resins are added to the wax, they improve adhesiveness of the wax.
In the mid-19th century the cap, the copper stamp was developed to meet the growing demands. This helped make batik fabric affordable. Compared to the traditional method, this invention enabled production of higher volumes of batik.
Application of batik Design
Traditional batik designs handed down over generations are drawn onto the fabric with charcoal or graphite. Designs are also traced from stencils or patterns. Another method of tracing a pattern onto a cloth is by laying the cloth on a glass table that is illuminated from below which casts a shadow of the pattern onto the cloth. The shadow is then traced with a pencil.
Unlike machine-made batik fabrics, handmade Bali batik art is an elaborate artistic process in which the fabric must be first prepared with a background color. The design is drawn onto the fabric, first with a pencil and then with melted wax. Once the wax cools down, the painters apply color wherever they want it, without colors running onto each other. This process goes on several times in a complex batik design till the whole design is completed.
After the design is painted and finished, the fabric is boiled to remove the wax and then it is dried in the sun to set the colors. The fabric might seem to be a little stiff because there might be some wax residue still in handmade batik fabrics. This improves after washing and ironing.
Batik clothing care
Rayon fabric with batik designs are heavily saturated with dyes and one can expect some dye to come out while washing. But this will not affect the color of the garment.
Batik design styles
The patterns and designs of batik fabrics have been influenced by many cultures. The Chinese contributed to the designs with the addition of more flower and bird motifs, border patterns. The incorporation of pinks, yellows and blues is also a Chinese contribution to batik fabric. Today the trend is to use the most popular European floral bouquets, birds, bees, butterflies and trees which have been favored by the Dutch and Eurasian women. The design and color combinations in batik fabric are mostly influenced by these three cultures.